David Livingstone Centre to get £12m revamp

THE birthplace of Scotland’s most famous explorer is set to be become a jungle-themed adventure centre in a bid to turn around its ailing fortunes.

A zip wire at Adrenalin Quarry, which is one of the inspirations behind the new plan. Picture: Adrenalin Quarry

The David Livingstone Centre in Lanarkshire will become home to heart-pounding aerial rides, treetop walkways and rock climbing activities under a new blueprint for the site.

High-wire “zip rides” across the River Clyde are being planned, while a disused quarry will also be brought into use for outdoor activities.

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The National Trust for Scotland, which runs the attraction in Blantyre, is also planning to create a huge maze, forest trails, cycling facilities and an art trail in the 20-acre estate, which surrounds Livingstone’s former home.

David Livingstone Centre.

A plan for the redevelopment, seen by Scotland on Sunday, states that the centre holds the world’s most significant collection of 19th century exploration, but warns that its future is “at risk” because of the low number of visitors and expensive running costs.

Livingstone, one of the great European explorers of Africa, was brought up in a tenement built for the staff of a nearby cotton mill, where he worked from the age of ten.

According to the blueprint, the new-look attraction would offer “the energy and creative fusion of Africa and Scotland – 19th century exploration and 21st century adventure”.

Part of the thinking is to give visitors an idea of the kind of environment that inspired Livingstone as a youngster – and the environment he would have experienced in Africa.

Artist's impression of the new David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre

However, other elements in the plan to revive the centre, which has been running since 1929, have been inspired by the success of attractions such as Jupiter Artland, the sculpture park near Edinburgh Airport, and Snuff Mills park and Adrenalin Quarry in Bristol.

Just 25,000 people a year visit the run-down Lanarkshire site. It is dominated by an outdated visitor centre built in the 1970s, which is due to be demolished. The tenement building, which dates back to the 18th century, will be restored and extended.

An outdoor events space will be created to make the site suitable for open-air concerts and festivals, while mobile phone apps will be developed to guide visitors through the site, listen to a commissioned soundtrack and play games inspired by Livingstone’s famous explorations.

Livingstone developed a love of natural history while living in Lanarkshire. He studied medicine at what is now Strathclyde University before completing his studies in London. He joined the London Missionary Society and was ordained in 1840. From 1841 until his death in 1873, he explored central and southern Africa.

Artist's impression of the new David Livingstone Centre in Blantyre

Gareth Hoskins Architects, the firm brought in to transform the National Museum of Scotland, Culloden Battlefield and Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, is working on the £12 million project.

The blueprint drawn up by the Glasgow-based practice states: “David Livingstone had a major impact on both the UK and Africa during his lifetime and beyond. This impact and legacy is felt particularly in terms of his work as a medical scientist (and his contributions to tropical medicine), an explorer and geographer and an abolitionist. However, while a number of cities, monuments and public institutions bear his name, many still do not understand the celebrity and significance of David Livingstone.”

Much of the estate in Blantyre, which is owned by a charitable trust rather than NTS, is a protected woodland of Special Scientific Interest. The proposed treetop walkway would lead visitors out to a viewing point above the Clyde, while two zip lines would take youngsters across the estuary.

The authors of the plan say: “By developing both an indoor and an outdoor experience in nature, the exhibition aims to encourage visitors to appreciate and observe the natural world around them – just as the young David Livingstone did almost 200 years ago.”

Project manager Nat Edwards said: “We are trying to be much more imaginative with our sites.”

The Scottish Government and Heritage Lottery Fund will be asked to help bankroll the revamp, which will see the site rebranded as the David Livingstone Centre for Discovery, Adventure and Leadership. However, part of the estate may be sold off to help pay for the improvements.